East Central College has more than doubled its three-year graduation rate in the past decade — from 19 percent in 2012 to 40 percent in 2021.

“It’s a priority, so we’ve worked to make sure that we’re supporting students all the way through to enable them and that they realize the importance of graduation,” ECC President Dr. Jon Bauer said. 

In 2014, the graduation rate hit a 10-year low of 18 percent of students who graduated within three years of starting at ECC, but has steadily increased that number since, according to a press release from the college. 

Bauer credits several intervening steps the college has taken to improve that number over the past several years. 

First, the use of a “guided pathway model,” which outlines what courses students should take based on their academic program. Bauer said this provides a clear avenue students can take to graduation.

And when students are on those pathways, the school has put an extra emphasis on support, Bauer said. Many students have work, family, or other obligations that make college difficult, so having programs that support students are essential. ECC staff, like academic advisers, help connect students with such services. Bauer said ECC support staff use a software system called Aviso to help maintain communication with and track students’ educational progress. 

ECC also has reached out to former students who are a few credits shy of graduating. While many of those students would not help the three-year graduation rate, Bauer said it’s still important to the school that those students finish a degree. 

“We know quality credentials are important and that can include an associate’s degree that can prepare you for the workforce or to transfer,” Bauer said.

The national three-year graduation rate for community colleges is 26.6 percent, according to the  Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System in 2020. The graduation rate for all Missouri colleges and universities is about 61 percent.

“We don’t want to be average and we’re not done, but I think it’s also always important to stop and recognize when you have significant improvement and that’s where we are,” Bauer said.